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Literature: Invisible Man
"My God, boy! You're black and living in the South—did you forget how to lie?"
Dr. Bledsoe

The first and only completed novel by the critic and reviewer Ralph Ellison, published in 1952 and extremely popular ever since. The plot revolves around a young black man who is determined to rise to a position of influence, but is ignorant of the amount of lying and scheming that will take. As he bounces from one situation to another in search of power, both hears the words and witnesses the actions of various people and groups who're manipulating the racial divide.

Not to Be Confused with The Invisible Man, a Science Fiction novel by H. G. Wells.

Tropes

  • The All-Concealing I: We never do get the protagonist's name. All he does use is "I".
  • Alternate Universe: Noted to resemble 40s-60s America, but heavily distorted and stuffed with metaphors to be different enough, such as the requirement of getting an education if black is beating the tar out of each other for the upper white class's amusement.
  • Bar Brawl: In this universe, the requirement to get into college, if you're black, is beating the shit out of other black men under the amused eye of white sponsors.
  • Body Motifs: The eyes are referred to often.
  • Broken Aesop: Intentionally; Ellison thought there was something deeply wrong in society, but had no idea what to do to fix it.
  • Character Filibuster: the main character leads political rallies, so this is kind of a given.
  • The Chessmaster: Both Bledsoe and Brother Jack qualify. Each is also a Villain with Good Publicity.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: The Sambo doll-shaped cast-iron bank.
  • Dark Messiah: Ras the Exhorter, later known as Ras the Destroyer is almost a deconstruction of this—he thinks he's a grand leader, but he's really just a fat, absurd fellow whom the Powers That Be have no trouble manipulating.
  • The Ditz: Trueblood, among others.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Anything and everything that appears in the novel is a metaphor, from the recipe for the paint the main character helps to make, to the Sambo dolls he attempts to destroy. At times, it gets more than a little Anvilicious.
  • Driven to Madness: By the end/beginning, the protagonist is siphoning electricity just so that he can turn on a bunch of scavenged lights to feel good, and taking full advantage of his "invisibility."
  • Dumbass No More: The end/beginning.
  • Elephant in the Living Room: The racial divide.
  • Flat "What.": The main character's mental response to Todd Cliffton's Sambo dolls.
  • How We Got Here: Everything up until the interrogation scene is the main character reflecting on his life so far.
  • I Am What I Am: The protagonist has come to accept that he is "invisible": not literally so, but that mainstream society ignores him for being a minority, and that the nasty, bizarre events that plagued his life have shaped him.
  • Invisible Jerkass: The protagonist considers himself this. Not literally invisible, but socially invisible and thus able to evade the police after assaulting a man. He lampshades it a little, by predicting that the reader will want to grab him and angrily shout at him.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: The main character winds up with them by the end. In fact, he buys them. Bledsoe seems to have always had them.
  • Lady in Red: The woman who seduces the narrator.
  • Love Freak: The main character fluctuates between this and messiah, but is ultimately more the former than the latter. Also something of a Pollyanna and a Horrible Judge of Character, and has elements of The Fool, but he's more of a Butt Monkey than that makes him sound. We might as well call him an Idiot Hero, too. Need it be stated that he's a Wide-Eyed Idealist?
  • Malcolm Xerox: Ras the Exhorter - although this is before Malcolm X came to prominence, so more like Marcus Garvey Xerox.
  • No Name Given: If a complex character is introduced before their personality is fully explained, they're often not given a full name until we learn their true nature. Some characters go without a name throughout (most notably the narrator, who doesn't quite understand himself.) This is also used with such characters as the Founder to show that No Celebrities Were Harmed.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: The main character comes across a man who raped his daughter by accident (he was sleepwalking/dreaming). When he comes out of the dream and realizes what's happening his daughter refuses to let him stop.
  • One-Book Author: While other books were published, they all were posthumous.
  • Parental Incest: The main character runs across a man who got his wife and daughter pregnant at the same time. This leads him to disaster.
  • Path of Inspiration: If it's possible to have a secular one, the Brotherhood is this in spades. Even the lower-ranking officials don't realize just how much the organization focuses on gaining power, and how little its highest-ranking members really care about helping the poor and downtrodden.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: One of the main character's few skills is to manipulate these. Ras can do so too.
  • Seemingly Wholesome '50s Girl: Sybil is a funny case in that she would qualify as The Ingenue if it weren't for her rape fantasies. (As the victim, mind you, not the rapist—she's utterly smothered by her life, and wants something wild.)
  • Self-Made Man: Bledsoe is one (or at least pretends to be one, given how much he lies and schemes), while the title character tries to become one.
  • Stepford Smiler: There are so many black characters to whom this applies, and an awful lot of the Brotherhood fits it too.
  • Take That: To Horatio Alger, among others.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Any and every time the main character thinks he's finally found a decent life for himself.

HomeLiterary Works by African-American AuthorsMoses, Man of the Mountain
I Am LegendLiterature of the 1950sI, Robot
Inherent ViceLit FicInvisible Monsters

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